Aspen’s city council passes extension of mask ordinance, zones through ski season

Carolyn Sackariason and David Krause
The Aspen Times
Maya Faucher and son Harry Faucher, 2, play at the Wagner Park playground in downtown Aspen on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

If you are planning to hang out in Aspen this winter, don’t forget to pack a few masks and a couple of extra coats for outdoor seating.

Aspen City Council on Tuesday passed an emergency ordinance on first reading that extends a mandatory mask-wearing zone until May 1.

Council will finalize the new ordinance at its Oct. 27 meeting, which is several days before the current ordinance expires Nov. 4.

“What I am looking at in extending this is community health and public safety going into a winter where we hope to attract multitudes of guests from out of town,” Councilwoman Rachel Richards said. “We need to maintain consistency as we try to do that. We are all walking a tightrope of balancing our economic needs with our health needs, with ever more predominately the sense that our guests will have coming here that it is safe to come here and that they will want to spend their vacation dollars here.”

Council passed the mask zone, which includes all of downtown and some peripheral areas, this past summer.

During discussions looking into the winter season, the majority of Aspen City Council members said Monday during a work session that they are in favor of extending the current mask ordinance through the ski season.

“A mask zone extension is a no-brainer for me,” Councilman Ward Hauenstein said.

Officials could rescind the order at any time, but city officials said it would help in planning for the winter and send a consistent message that masks are a must if you’re in any of the city’s zones, which includes an area at Aspen Highlands.

Mayor Torre said Monday he was hoping to do away with the zones and hoped that people would follow the state guidelines for masks, but concluded the “mandatory mask zone brings a heightened awareness.”

The council’s work session focused on survey results from two recent town hall sessions, as well as an online community survey. The biggest concern about the winter season in the nearly 500 responses was expiring the mask zone (56%) and too many tourists (46%). Going forward, 63% of the respondents want to see the mask zones continue in some fashion.

To start looking at ideas for the upcoming season, the Winter in Aspen Vitality team was formed in early August and is comprised of city staff from various departments. On Monday and on Tuesday nights, the council members gave some thoughts and guidance on winter ideas to help businesses.

On Tuesday, council voted to waive fees for temporary structures and for outside dining as well as using more parking spaces to designate for curbside pickup. For spring, summer and winter, that equates to about $12,000 in lost revenue to the city, which can absorb it more than individual businesses, elected officials agreed.

Council also agreed to allow community development staff to use discretion in the interpretation and application of regulations related to tents and temporary structures in the right of way and on private property.

One conversation is that takeout will be a big deal this winter, and there are suggestions to have designed pick-up spots to make it easier for people to do curbside takeout. There can be shared spaces and not specific to restaurants. They will likely be 15-minute spots.

In the survey results, 73% of responses said they support restaurants using public space for such pick-up spots.

As for outdoor dining, council members want to continue on a plan, but have concerns about the liabilities given the different weather conditions.

There are nuances that will be worked out, such as the type of heating sources (electric, propane or open flame) and the types of outdoor structures beyond tents (yurts, igloos or geodesic domes).

Richards on Monday brought up concerns of liability and safety in making parking spaces available for outdoor dining, especially in right of way areas with icy roads and tents blocking the view of drivers.

“We want to be assured a sliding car won’t smash into tables,” Councilwoman Ann Mullins concurred during the work session.

Scott Miller, the city’s public works director, said the biggest concern is snow removal and cars sliding into outdoor structures.

“We probably need some kind of concrete barriers to protect these structures,” he said Monday.

One idea that hit a road block is opening bus lanes for more traffic, mainly for hotel shuttles. That is “a very complicated situation,” city parking director Mitch Osur said on Monday. Since the Elected Officials Transportation Committee is behind the HOV lanes, it would have to go through that group, as well as the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority. Also, there are very specific rules about fixed routes and schedules as well as other detours.

Council decided that effort would be a waste of a lot of staff time to work on something that is not achievable.

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